Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Een uur met de autobus (An Hour by Bus) by Annik Saxegaard

I know I set out the „rules” of my collection in my first post, but some exceptions have been allowed in. This is one of them. The book was translated from the Norwegian and published in 1940. The title page states it is for „ 14 and over”. Annik Saxegaard was a prolific writer and published many books, both in Norwegian and in German.                  An Hour by Bus is the story of four girls. Tordis, a medical student, Bente (working in an office) and Ingjerd (married to a sailor and also working in an office) are tired of landladies and decide to live together. They find a house for rent in a village „an hour by bus” from town.
This being the 30’s they cannot look after themselves so Tordis askes Helle, her cousin, to become their housekeeper, for 40 Kroner per month. She accepts and it is Helle who tells the story (in a strange combination of old-fashioned Dutch and badly translated Norwegian).
The house had no running water and housekeeping is a lot of hard work. Helle writes: „I, the youngest of them all, will have to be a kind of mother to them”. And this is what she does: sacrificing herself by working day and night, saving money by doing the laundry herself and catching fish in the lake. She grows vegetables and fruit. 


 There is drama: Ingjerd has a baby, and her husband only just survives a shipwreck. He returns and he, Ingjerd and their baby move into their own home. Bente leaves too, to get married. Actually, to do a domestic science course and work on her trousseau first. Helle becomes desperate: she will be left on her own, because she has red hair and freckles, likes to cook but considers herself too stupid to do anything else. By this time she is even refusing her salary. Fortunately a Man knocks on the door at the right time and all is well. Only medical student Tordis is determined to stay single.
I know this book was written in the 30’s, but even so it is hard to stomach at times. I suppose that at the time, the girls might have been seen as enterprising, for setting out on their own, and employing a maid would have been normal.
I love the domestic detail, and of course, the cover. 

Sunday, 17 January 2021

The Joy of Reading and Things you find in Secondhand Books

Elizabeth West writes in A Patch in the Forest:
I read everything: posters, timetables, soap packets, advertisements. Wherever there are two or three words gathered together I will read them.
I am just the same. I cannot contemplate going on a train journey or a holiday without plenty of reading matter. Going on cycling trips used to present me with problems as I wanted enough books to last me the whole trip but they also had to be lightweight. That is why my e-reader had become my best friend for trips.
At home I mostly read library books, and I buy books secondhand. Sadly, a lot of secondhand bookshops have closed, but there are a lot of „kringloopwinkels”, secondhand shops run by councils or organizations offering employment to people who would otherwise have difficulties finding work. English speaking visitors to The Netherlands please note: lots of English language books can be found there very cheaply.
As Elizabeth West point out, one of the joys of buying second hand books is finding things in them. She writes how, when reading In Search of Wales by H.V. Morton
… as I turned over page 91 (…) I was astonished to find a handwitten letter folded inside. „My own darlingest” I read. I hesitated for a moment and then, feeling rather sneaky, I read on. The letter dated 8th August 1942 was written by Eric stationed at 385 Battery, R.A.Orkney, to his wife Margaret, and recalled with tender details their marriage of the previous year and their honeymoon at Tenby. (…) So what happened? Was Eric killed in Action? Did Margaret die in the Blitz? Or did the arrival of this book on a street market stall have a more mundane explanation? We shall probably never know. And the very private love letter has ben replaced in Morton’s In Search of Wales, where it belongs.

In The Fat of the Land by John Seymour I found a note by Mary to Diana (written in January 2000) which was equally intriguing:
I want to thank you most sincerely for the time after Christmas, and do so; but it is difficult to know what to say more since I seem to have misunderstood at every point, and came as an uninvited and far from perfect guest, making assumptions and spreading germs. I can now only offer you and Harold a very sincere apology and hope in the long run it will not spoil what has been such a long and important friendship.(…) , but whatever you may think, it did not come from arrogance and selfishness, rather from presuming too much about boundaries.
Every time I come across it I reread it and ponder: what happened? Are they stil friends?

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Hovel in the Hills by Elizabeth West (1977)

In Hovel in the Hills Elizabeth West describes how she and het husband Alan find their dream home in the country. The book covers the period of their lives from 1965 to 1974. My edition is a paperback from 1981, by which time the book had been reprinted 5 times. It is still in print today.

"The thing we both wanted, and were noticeably short of, was time. Time to think; time to ponder upon what life was all about. Now, if we paid cash for a small primitive cottage and a patch of land we would surely have the basics for a simple life that would not need a very high income to maintain."

Ellizabeth and Alan buy Hafod near Llanrwst in North Wales, for 1650 pounds.
There is no mains electricity, no running water and no sewer. A spring provides water and a solid fuel stove heats the cottage and is used for cooking. They use paraffin lamps and candles and some electricity is provided by their windcharger. And then there is the privy in the garden.
The house and outbuildings require a lot of repair and yearly upkeep. Fortunately Alan seems to be the ultimate handyman (or „botcher” as Elizabeth calls it), so he takes care of all that. Not everything can be solved, however: "during the winter months most people would consider the place unfit for habitation.With the coming of the cold weather, the walls of the cottage in every room often stream with condensation. (…) Following shortly after (…) comes the mould. (…) Any foodstuffs, clothing, shoes etc. left touching an outside wall will become saturated and sprout beautiful little tufts of white fur, and every article in all rooms except the kitchen will be affected by damp."
But they get by, by storing all important things in the kitchen, and anyway, they are not fussy about mod cons, perfectly happy to live this way.

The cottage lies at 1000 feet, making for a short summer season. Also, the winds are fierce, so gardening is a challenge. Nevertheless they create a garden which provides them with most of the food they need. They don’t keep animals, as work takes them away from Hafod every now and again.
Elizabeth delights in wild animals. Her chapters on birds are among my favourites in the book.

Before they bought the house, they were planning to find (part time) work locally, but this turns out to be almost impossible.They advertise in The Lady and work, for a few months at a time, as temporary live-in gardener/handyman and housemaid/nanny/cook for rich people. Even reading this in the 1980’s, this filled me with astonishment, as this was a totally alien world for me, but apparently completely normal in Britain.

They live a very frugal life and are foragers long before this concept becomes fashionable. The book can be read as a manual on how to live on very little money. Elizabeth is at her best when writing about coping for oneself and about plants and animals. What she is not so good at is people. This becomes more apparent in het later books, but even in this book you do get the impression that Elizabeth and Alan Know Best, and everyone else has become a slave to modern badly made gadgets and chemical fertilizers.

Searching the Internet in 2002 I found information by someone who was living in „Hafod” then, giving its name as Bron Haul, at Nebo, Garth Garmon, LLanrwst. I have not been able to find more recent information.


Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Or maybe it started here ...

During my childhood my family spent every summer holiday on the island of Ameland. The books in our holiday home included a translation of Eleanor Graham's The Children Who Lived in a Barn (1938, my Dutch translation was from 1959).

I loved this book! It is about five children looking after themselves when their parents have to go away and then fail to return. It seemed to me perfectly normal that they had to move out of their home and into a barn, cooking on a wood stove, spending a whole day doing the laundry and using a haybox. I loved all the domestic detail and the children's independence. So maybe this is where my love of "The Good Life" books began.
Persephone Books have republished The Children who lived in a Barn.

Monday, 4 January 2021

How it all started

Mam would be in Non-Fiction seeking her particular brand of genteel escape - sagas of couples who had thrown up everything to start a smallholding (gentleman farmers in the making) or women like Monica Dickens who had struck out on their own. Alan Bennett, Writing Home, p. 8.

How it all started

Sometime during the late '70's I bought Hovel in the Hills by Elizabeth West. Can't remember when, where or why, but after reading it I wanted more and so my collection started to grow. My favourite books include lots of domestic detail, chapters on gardens, not too much information on animals, and, of course, maps and lists. Unlike Alan Bennet's mum I am not keen on gentleman farmers, or (rich) people doing it just for fun. I once read a book by Adam Nicolson on his farm, but when I came across the line: "our children's nanny" I knew he had to go. 
So far, most of the books are by British authors (I am Dutch, but the Netherlands are just too small for this kind of thing) and most of them are written by women. Quite a few of them are not very well written, but that is part of their charm.
One of the joys of collecting this genre is that you never know what you will find where. Books can turn up anywhere in a secondhand bookshop: local history, gardening, biography, agriculture, who knows? On the other hand, searching on the Internet is not always easy as often only titles are given, which does not tell you much.
Many books left me feeling curious: what happened next? I tried to find out more, but did not get very far. That is one of the reasons for starting this blog. Also,  I hope to discover new titles, and of course I hope to hear from people who share my enthusiasm. Find my address at the top of the page.